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W.Va. legislator plans bill mandating external probes of deaths involving law enforcement

Journal photo by Chelsea DeMello Local citizens and members of the Jefferson County NAACP march through downtown Charles Town on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Journal photo by Chelsea DeMello
Local citizens and members of the Jefferson County NAACP march through downtown Charles Town on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. — Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, announced Sunday afternoon during the annual Freedom Trail March his upcoming plan to introduce a bill that would mandate an external investigation process involving law enforcement-related deaths.

Skinner announced plans to introduce the bill shortly after dozens of local citizens and members of the Jefferson County NAACP chapter marched through the streets of Charles Town in remembrance of the work and life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Jefferson County lawmaker was met with applause during his announcement to propose the bill in the upcoming legislative session, which he plans to do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“It’s impossible to be in the U.S. right now and not recognize what’s going on. We must do all of this with the sensitivity that recognizes that the people who are keeping us safe are not all unhonorable,” Skinner said. “But we also have to recognize that when someone is murdered, they deserve justice, and it can’t be determined by a prosecutor presented in a closed room to a grand jury who doesn’t know all of the facts.”

Skinner said the bill will be similar to Wisconsin Act 348, the first and only law of its kind in the nation that currently requires a state to hold outside investigations for any deaths involving law enforcement agencies.

If passed, the law could become not only a historic feat for West Virginia, but for the country as well.

The Jefferson County NAACP chapter approached local delegates into drafting legislation similar to Wisconsin Act 348 prior to a candidate forum last fall.

Local NAACP chapters called upon the need for change after a federal judge threw out a $200 million lawsuit filed against the city of Martinsburg and five police officers who fatally shot Wayne Jones in March 2013.

Jones was shot by the officers 22 times. The officers were found to be justified and reasonable in the use of deadly force.

“The death of Wayne Jones was shocking to a lot of folks and I think there are a lot of people who don’t feel like there’s been an adequate investigation and understanding of what happened,” Skinner said. “I support and depend on law enforcement every single day. This helps everyone make sure that the process has integrity.”

Skinner said his plans for the upcoming week are to work with other local delegates and find co-sponsors to support the bill.

Coming off the heels of an election that saw a major shift toward the Republican party, as a Democrat, Skinner will be heading to Charleston in the minority.

However, Skinner said he doesn’t anticipate the GOP shift to affect his plan to advocate for the bill.

“It doesn’t matter which party it is. It’s always a challenge to talk about these issues. I certainly want to have a full slate of co-sponsors; I want it to be bipartisan,” he said.

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